Walter Lewin investigated for sexual harassment via EdX

I’m sure a lot of you have heard about this by now, but just check out the comments on the Tech article. I don’t really know what to say other than that what I said last week about my disappointment in the MIT community holds true to these anonymous commenters, as well. Also: even among people I have talked to there seems to be some unease with the decision to remove all his videos – what do you all think?

Update: Check out (what appears to be) Lewin’s Twitter to see stuff like this:Lewin

Also some of my favorite comments about women and feminism on the Tech comments:

4: “He’s 78 years old. Ever heard of the grandpa who says some inappropriate words at the dinner table? For all we know, he called her “honey,” or did some other behavior that used to be OK but no longer isn’t.”

10:  “To some hypersensitive Millenials, him saying “honey,” “you’re beautiful” etc. would be offensive.”

13: “A barrier to the achievement of young women is the low mental level offered by american feminism. Very few women speak of the beauty of science and the pleasure of its pursuit. How can an adolescent girl blossom in that desert?” [Something about the words “adolescent girl blossom” feel creepily like the vocabulary used to describe menstruation and virginity and teen girl sexuality]

22: “It is also interesting that you seem intolerant of criticism of a modern political philosophy that’s developed in the last 20-30 years (american feminism) and that surveys show 80 of the country disagrees with [1]. That seems extraordinarily naive and a little bigoted and close-minded, almost fascist.” [Now supporting feminism is fascist –  News to me!]

32: “Unfortunate that the good professor offended online a few fainting flowers of femininity. No doubt my previous sentence, if I were affiliated with MIT (other than being an alum), would also violate MIT policy. … And Amy, please don’t go into STEM. You’ll hate it and you won’t be doing us any favors. Or if you do go into STEM, start an all-woman company. We’ll all be happier and more productive that way.” [This isn’t in any way related to why women don’t feel comfortable in STEM fields]

40: “#38 wrote: ” …as one of the students who helped to rewrite the sexual harassment policy in recent years …” Oh, so you’re to blame! :-)”

45: “Maybe it’s a good idea if … the “harrased” womango to go public and tell everyone why they now miss the lectures and material, because someone is sad about the professor’s so called behaviour.” [Ohh how I love putting quotes around “harassed.” It doesn’t sound like victim blaming at all.]

66: “I am so glad I graduated from MIT years before this ninny political correctness reigned its ugly head.”

I’ve resorted to snarkiness because I’m so unhappy with some of these responses that I don’t know what else to say.


2 thoughts on “Walter Lewin investigated for sexual harassment via EdX

  1. I’d like to hear from more people about this as well — the allegation on the Tech page is that taking down the videos is the same as burning books. I don’t know if I believe that is true — it seems to me that the videos exist within the framework of the EdX classes and MIT is interested in preventing further harassment in that context.


    • I don’t think this is at all the same as book burning. Firstly, book burning has a censorship-like connotation, and pertains to the specific topics of the works being burned. This decision by MIT is not about the *topic* of Lewin’s lectures – MIT isn’t suggesting that no one should learn classical mechanics or E&M – but prohibiting them on the platform on which they’re released. Book burning is just one of those emotionally charged phrases people use to polarize opinions.

      Secondly, MIT’s decision is based on the fact that (as you say) MIT does not want to encourage further interactions via EdX or OCW. Some people have then argued, “But why remove the videos? He can’t interact through those!” but I don’t think that that really works as an argument. Lewin’s Twitter (now linked in the article) seems to suggest that fans of his videos reach out to him in other ways, and that MIT hosting this content is further enabling his inappropriate behavior on various other media. It’s not clear that it’s MIT’s job to police that, but I can see why they don’t want to be associated with it.


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